Go Back

Our Stories

Looking back: The first YE class

For more than 25 years, Youth Entrepreneurs has equipped young people with the values and vision to pursue their dreams. And it all began in 1991, at Wichita North High School. One of the first two teachers, Matt Silverthorne, still teaches YE today. Matt shares how the program began, why its lessons are powerful for students today and how YE has transformed him as an educator.

It all began when Steve Marriotti, an entrepreneur and founder of NFTE (the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship) traveled from New York to Wichita for a visit with Charles and Liz Koch. The Koch family was willing to make a donation, but on one condition: they wanted a similar program to launch in Wichita. Matt recalls the moment when he was first approached about teaching the program.

“Steve Marriotti got in a taxi and said, take me to the most inner city school in Wichita,” Matt says. “The taxi brought him to North. It was 5:00 pm and I was coaching basketball at the time.” When Matt was asked to get involved with this new program, he jumped at the chance. 

Matt’s love for entrepreneurship runs deep. “I’ve always been passionate about entrepreneurship,” he says. “I always thought there was such power and importance in the idea of ownership. Many students don’t take ownership over their lives, but greater still, they don’t see it as an option. They don’t know that they can take ownership of their choices and decisions, and getting to teach them that was very appealing to me.”

Furthermore, the chance to teach an experiential class was appealing. “In education, we’re constantly looking for ways to teach kids the basics,” he says. “Entrepreneurship is a pathway to make core classes relevant. Even classes that are ‘real world’ provide only simulation. YE is really doing it, it’s hands on. Students see how these decisions are real and how they have a real impact.”

“But the hard part of the sell was the time frame,” Matt remembers. “It was February and the semester had already started. We didn’t have a class and didn’t have students. So we made the decision that I’d teach it during my planning period, but I didn’t want to do it alone.” Doug Carr, who is today the Assistant Principal at Wichita’s Andover Central High School, joined Matt to teach the inaugural class.

Doug and Matt began recruiting students for their class. “We went around and found the students ourselves,” Matt says. They sought out students who needed hope, needed transformation and needed inspiration to overcome barriers. “We identified students who were failing classes, students who were at risk of dropping out.”

“Part of our goal was to get these kids excited about school again, and we pitched the class as something different,” Matt says. He and Doug shared about the experiential nature of the class, a class unlike the others they’d taken. “These kids were struggling in school, but had lots of business sense and needed to learn how to use it in a positive fashion.”

The curriculum included many elements that are still part of YE today. “We did Market Day and we taught a lot of the core lessons.” But they taught it without textbook or curriculum guidelines — using their background as educators and knowledge of what their students needed to learn to be entrepreneurial thinkers. The next year, word about the class spread and demand was high for the course. “We’ve always had significantly more students interested in the class!”

Today, nearly three decades later, Matt still loves teaching Youth Entrepreneurs at Wichita North. “When I first started teaching, I didn’t see myself teaching long-term,” he reflects. “But the reason I’ve taught long-term is YE.”

He especially loves the ongoing training that YE provides educators. “We've had many training opportunities to hear from people and meet people, network with people . . . this training has built my background knowledge so much, but also my ability to problem solve, my ability to be a better person.” 

For Matt, it’s been exciting to see YE evolve over the years. “I’ve loved watching YE grow from one class, to one city, to many schools in many cities in many states,” he says. “And YE leadership knows our work is not done. It’s always a focus on how we can make it better, how we can listen to each other, and then also learn from the world outside of our own education world.”

Win-Win Focus, one of YE’s Foundational Values, has always been close to Matt’s heart. “Lots of our students don’t have role models in the business world. Their idea of a businessperson is someone from the movies or on TV. It’s portrayed that you have to wrong someone else to get ahead. Students think you have to take advantage of someone else to benefit. But the Win-Win value is a real mindset shift. Students learn that by making someone else’s life better, it makes their life better too.”

“I’ve been asked many times over the years what my favorite success stories are,” Matt says. “But most memorable to me are the little things that happen over and over, and add up to something much bigger than just one success story. It’s the students who start to see that first step, who start to see that they have choices, and then begin to make better choices, change their behaviors and make principled decisions. You see kids take these lessons home to their families and impact the world around them. YE is all about those little changes that add up to something huge over time.”